The rumors traveled quickly around the House of Delegates here last week, when the convertible belonging to Anne Arundel County delegate Gerald W. Winegrad was vandalized for the second time in a month.

A conspiracy, the whispers went. A vendetta. An effort at intimidation.

In fact, Winegrad says, the person who slashed his car's tires, removed its House of Delegates license plates and severed its brake cable probably knew nothing of his political work, or even who he was.

But the speculation the incident touched off among Winegrad's colleagues is evidence of the reputation he has gained this year as a fierce promoter of some of the session's most controversial bills.

In particular, this young, intense first-term delegate from Annapolis has thrust himself into the middle of one of the year's most bitter special-interest battles by sponsoring a bill that would require mandatory deposits on beverage bottles and cans sold in the state.

Although the proposal is not a new one -- it has been killed several times in the past by legislative committees -- it attracted attention this month after a public hearing drew more than 400 supporters and opponents. Special-interest groups, including glass manufacturers and can companies, are so convinced that the bill might pass that they are backing a separate measure, an antilitter ordinance, as an alternative.

Ultimately, Winegrad acknowledges, his bill is likely to be defeated in the House Environmental Matters committee by the special-interest forces and other opponents. But it is typical of Winegrad, one of the legislator's foremost sponsors of energy and environmental legislation, that he would vehemently pledge not to give up.

"At least, I want the (Environmental Matters) committee members to know that if it doesn't pass this year, I'll put it in again next year, and the year after," Winegrad said. "I'm not going to let this issue go away."

Winegrad recognizes the political dangers of his position, and responds, "I'm not here looking for publicity -- my focus has always been on results. Frustration is part of this job. But if you believe in things, you have to keep trying."

Then, too, Winegrad's background and constituency make him a logical leader for environmental and energy causes. The Annapolis district the 35-year-old delegate represents encompasses parts of five rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, in addition to the historic areas of the city.

Winegrad launched his professional career in the early 1970s by working on Capitol Hill as a lawyer for the National Wildlife Federation. He sits on several boards that oversee environmental work and environmental protection in Annapolis.

This year, in addition to the deposit bill, Winegrad has focused on legislation promoting energy conservation, drafting nine bills to establish state programs for consumers who invest in energy-saving devices, among other measures.

And it is in this area that he may accomplish most. After a series of meeting with the staff of Gov. Harry Hughes, Winegrad has seen four of his ideas become part of Hughes' own legislative package for energy this year.

One of these measures would protect homeowners who install solar collectors from having their sunlight blocked by nearby developments, while another would require buildings constructed by the state in the future to use a "renewable" energy source such as solar power.

Nevertheless, Winegrad is not yet satisfied. "If you do an analysis of energy legislation in various states, Maryland ranks down near the bottom," he said. "What we've got to do is keep working to reorient the state's priorities toward conservation -- because that is going to be the real problem in the future."